In the 1980s we fell in love with Marty McFly, time travel, and DeLoreans. Thanks to Stephen Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and a host of others, Back to the Future was one of the most iconic movies of the decade and one of the best-selling trilogy series of all-time.
I was born in the ’80s, but the decade following would be the decade of my generation. Wedged between the end of Generation X and the beginning of Generation Y were, the Nineties.
I recently caught a spellbinding, three-part series about the 1990s on The National Geographic Channel. They called it The Last Great Decade.
I remember the ’90s well: I loved baseball and was in love with Kelly Kapowski. I searched for Jesus and watched my cassette tapes become compact discs. My collection ranged from Snoop Dogg to DC Talk, Nirvana to Hootie and the Blowfish.
However, as I watched this program, I relived the moments that, at the time, had carelessly passed by my innocent eyes. Like a DeLorean for my subconscious, the images and stories brought back memories and emotions to my now-adult mind.
The decade that brought me all the awkwardness of middle school and the discovery of high school was the decade that added so much uncertainty to a troublesome social, political, and cultural climate.
I remember Jeffrey Dahmer.
My family was vacationing in White Lake, North Carolina, with some friends as the story flooded the news headlines about his cannibalistic killing spree outside of Milwaukee. I was terrified that he had escaped to a lake in Eastern North Carolina. I didn’t sleep for days.
I remember the Rodney King riots.
South Los Angeles run amuck with hatred; pure, uninhibited evil. Across the country I headed into my inner-city middle school, wondering if my black classmates hated me. I’m sure they wondered the same about me.
I remember David Koresh and The Waco Standoff.
The harsh jokes and government ridicule that followed. It seemed insensitive to me; I recalled thinking about those people burning to death in that compound.
I remember the white Ford Bronco chase.
I was twelve and we had just won our Little League Championship. We celebrated our victory and watched the footage unfold; OJ was subsequently acquitted for the murders he committed.
I remember my first computer and dial-up internet.
Windows ’96 graced the screen and that annoying sound radiated from this machine. I didn’t fully understand what it all meant; it just seemed so cool at the time. Turns out I still have my first AOL screen name, SpecialH00. Don’t ask me why.
I remember the infidelities of then-President Bill Clinton.
At seventeen I was a bit naive. What was fellatio? Why would our President be accused of being with someone other than his wife? I particularly remember that most Democrats didn’t seem to care, and most Republicans were furious. The bipolar Us vs. Them political system embedded into my brain.
I remember Columbine.
Our worst fears were no longer song lyrics or Hollywood dramatizations; they now paraded the hallways of our schools with shotguns and pipe bombs. They brought fear into our living rooms. I wondered what I would have done had I been there.
I remember the rise and fall of celebrities like Kurt Cobain. Tragic stories of everyday people elevated by the media spotlight. A mountain of fame and fortune tumbled downhill to misery, loneliness, hopelessness, and suicide.
And the list of memories and events goes on…
The experience was surreal as I looked back twenty years through the lenses of hindsight. In a way, I was able to transport my mind back to that time, but with the wisdom I have today. I saw myself between the ages of nine and nineteen; the world around me changing. I was changing as well.
Then it hit me. During the ’90s, I lost my innocence.
On the outside, most people saw a kid who found his identity in his studies, his athletics, and his family. It was a likeable façade. But on the inside, I was questioning, searching, continually becoming. Deep down, I carried the pressure to fit in and be accepted. I know now that pressure was no different from the laundry list of news headlines above.
People on the hunt for meaning and purpose.
On a quest for answers, we tasted various worldly delights, seeing if they brought us the satisfaction our hearts longed for.
On my hunt, I snuck alcohol from a friend on numerous occasions that left me sick and incredibly guilty. I used words – awful, cutting words – as a way to appear cool or to fit in. I viewed images I can’t erase from my mind – as much as I would like to – as sexuality became a contender for my affections. I listened to music with pointless, damaging lyrics; many of which I can still recite today.
But, at some point, I finally realized that none of these things filled the void. Now that’s not to say there weren’t continued periods of struggle; there were. And the list continues.
Filling the Void
The stories above are littered with individuals who never filled the void. The snowball effect of tasting all life had to offer corrupted their veins as they succumbed to its illicit, unfulfilling delight.
I’m not suggesting the religious implications of any of these particular individuals, nor am I attempting to judge them for their shortcomings, because I believe there is one person whom I will have to answer to for my own actions and doing so will be hard enough.
I am simply trying to make a suggestion that these people, at some point, made a choice. And then they made another choice. And another. Decision upon decision to process their realities in such a way that led them down paths of destruction. Even in difficult circumstances we possess the ability to choose our response. Therein lies our flaw. These headlines seem to surprise us overnight, when, in fact, these events are actually the culmination of continued, poor decisions that we fail to address.
But it didn’t have to be that way. And it doesn’t now.
A life of the brink of hope can easily fall into despair and vice versa.
I owe my gratitude to so many: a family who continually poured into me and my passions; who asked the tough questions and loved me through the process; the childhood friend whose father drove us to AWANA every Tuesday night to fellowship and learn about the Lord; the high school chemistry teacher who hosted Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his home every week; the Young Life leader who invited me on a mission trip.
These people really made a difference in my life, eternally impacting it for the better. Their continued influence gave me hope that there was something more than what the world kept spitting at me. They helped me process everything I saw in popular culture and on the television with the hope of the gospel.
Whether you accept it or not, you have the opportunity to be that person for someone today.
My challenge to you is this:
What rich choices will you make today?
How will your impact on another’s life inspire the hope of the gospel in a seeking world?
As I wrote last week:
Be hope today. Bring richness. Bring light.
Welcome to Living Richly, where we seek to redefine the meaning of rich. I'm Matt Ham, a speaker, author, and coach. My most treasured title is that of husband, father, and friend. My goal is to help share perspective on living a rich life. Through the RICH principles discussed in my upcoming book "You Make My Life Rich" we seek to find hope amidst the stories. Join the conversation below and join the Live Richly Community by entering your email address above. For doing so, I'll send you a copy of my book "I Am Here: Becoming Unbroken" a testimony of finding hope, even in the brokenness. Thanks for being here!